Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Ongoing controversy over use of Police Liaison Officers

There is a very interesting film put out by the Guardian newspaper about the use of Police Liaison Officers (PLOs) by Sussex police. The stated intention of using such a tactic is for Police officers to enter into a dialogue with protestors with a view to encouraging mutual trust between the 2 sides and reducing conflict and disorder.

However, it's clear from the interviews with activists in this film that they have a deep-seated mistrust of the use of such tactics, and they see the PLOs as little more than an extension of the Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) that were set up by various Police forces in the UK to gather intelligence on known political activists. In a previous blog entry I talked about the possible historical reasons behind such mistrust in Brighton.

The film also shows PLOs from Sussex Police visiting an activist at her family home in Brighton, which has drawn accusations of harassment from her. One of the same officers is also filmed at a demonstration in Brighton shortly afterwards drawing his baton on protestors. Not having any inside knowledge on the motivations of Sussex Police, I am in no position to comment on how genuine they are in wishing to build up a meaningful dialogue between themselves and protestors, but their actions in this short film don't seem to be convincing the very same activists they're supposed to be building a dialogue with!

A response to the film by Cliff Stott (the crowd psychology expert who liased with Sussex police to set up the PLOs, and is interviewed in it) can be found on his Facebook site here. A more detailed report is in preparation, but in his post, he rejects some of the inferences made in the film as being too selective, and he criticises the emphasis in the film on a PLO drawing his baton on protestors. Time will tell whether political activists like the ones featured in the film begin to trust these PLOs, and see them as different from the FIT officers used previously. However, I think this debate shows how it is crucial to consider the historical and social context in which this change in policing has happened, and this will also help understanding of how it could develop. At the very least, Sussex Police should have considered how it might be perceived by protestors, when some of the officers that had been previously used to gather intelligence on them were now seemingly performing a new role by trying to enter into a dialogue with them. 

Just seen a Press Release issued by Sussex Police on 4th Sept formally introducing the Protest Liaison Teams.

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